The Sisters of Mount Carmel became a part of my life when Sister Josepha Maria MacNeil taught me in second grade and later Sister Martina Monk taught me in fourth grade at St. Dominic. I loved them dearly, and I wanted to be just like them. In other words, I wanted to be a Sister of Mount Carmel. However, I may have decided that I wanted to be a sister even before my second and fourth grade experiences with the sisters at St. Dominic. According to a story told by my mother so many times that I memorized it, it seems that God was already whispering in my ear and tugging at my heart when I was in kindergarten. As the story goes, my dad took me to the hospital to visit my mother and to bring her the Christmas present which I had made in kindergarten. I was so proud of my Christmas creation gift for my mother. It was a priceless gift, a coat hanger decorated with yarn. Remember those?
While I was visiting my mother in the hospital, a Sister of Charity came into the room. I had no idea what this person was who was all wrapped in a blue dress and who was wearing a huge white hat that looked like a big bird. When the sister left the room, I asked my mother what that was. She told me she was a lady who worked for God. Then and there I told my mother and dad that that was what I wanted to be when I grew up – a lady who works for God. Did I know what that meant? I don’t believe so, but I never forgot that encounter, and I never forgot that visit especially since my mother told the story often in my presence to so many people. The years flew by, and soon, I was fourteen and a junior in high school at Mount Carmel Academy. I knew a young girl could enter the community at fourteen if she would be fifteen shortly thereafter. So, I began asking my mother and dad if I could ask Mother Rita Monk to allow me enter in September. Finally, they agreed, but they were a bit sad. However, I was delighted though a little apprehensive. On Labor Day, 1944, my dad took me to the Motherhouse, and I was accepted by Mother Rita. Thus, began my years in Carmel.
Like any other normal human being, I had extraordinarily happy days and wonderful experiences; these were balanced out by some difficult days and sad experiences, but altogether they all added up to a very happy life in Carmel. This year, 2017, marks my 73rd year as a Sister of Mount Carmel. Seventy-one of those years, I have spent in the field of education. I taught elementary school, high school and college. I served as principal in both elementary and in high schools.
I have enjoyed my ministry in education wherever I have been assigned. Every place was special in its own way. Yet, some do stand out from the others. One special elementary school was St. Joseph the Worker in Marrero which had been a mission of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego, and, when I was first missioned there, had just been named a parish. The school was very small, more like a big family for me and Sr. Judith Hebert who was assigned there with me. Accompanied by many prayers of petition and thanksgiving, we worked with our pastor, Fr. Rousso, parents and student body, hopefully to help it become a very good Catholic school. It became just that. Time and the graduates covering a fifty year period evaluated the last year or two of their time at St. Joseph the Worker by the stories they shared with us. Some were funny stories, some very serious, but most were filled with gratitude for those years spent there and for the presence of the sisters. In fact, more than fifty years after their graduation from S.J.W., many of those former students still keep up with us.
Another special place was Mount Carmel in New Iberia. It was my first year as a high school teacher, and, a few years later, as principal. I had so much to learn, but also much to give to the student body, faculty, staff and parents. I think the years spent there, and those were many, are evaluated every time I am with former students and their parents at gatherings such as their annual Mount Carmel Alumnae Banquet. They bubble over with their expressions of gratitude for what they received while at Mount Carmel.
My present ministry is at Mount Carmel in New Orleans, another very special place. I had much more association with students at Mount Carmel when I was responsible for the Service Hour Program. This was very special and very different. I loved working with the students. I also supervised the science department and observed the fifteen science teachers at least twice a year. At a time convenient for the teachers, following each of my visits, the teacher and I met for a conference. Teacher conferences usually provide a relaxed opportunity to visit, review what I observed in their classroom, give them an opportunity to add or subtract from my observations and for me to take the opportunity to bring up things Carmelite which would lead to a very insightful conversation.
The fact that my office is on the main hall on the way to the cafeteria and the gym provides a natural venue for teachers, students, staff and anyone who comes by to stop in, say hello, or ask questions, and those visits give me the opportunity to mention things Carmelite when appropriate. Many stop by just to say hello or ask “How’s your day going?” And, I have equal time to do the same. Some ask for a time to come back and discuss different issues bothering them or to share special happenings in their lives, school or families. It is an easy, relaxed opportunity simply to be present and to share.
All my ministries have been times of grace and blessing for me, and I am happy to have the opportunity to share with faculty, staff and students when the time is appropriate. These are special times of grace and blessings which make my ministry so special for me and, hopefully, for them.
A call from God to religious life is very special and needs to be responded to prayerfully and with gratitude. It doesn’t mean saying “yes” immediately at that point. It does mean prayerfully asking God to “guide” you to the right decision.
Many of us pray regularly for all of you trying to prayerfully discern God’s will for you. Let us pray for one another to always make good, God-centered decisions. Know that we are with you in prayer.
The rule of the Carmelite also known as Formula for Living and its implementation in the structure and community life of the Sisters of Mount Carmel, challenged and inspired me to accept multi- tasking in my ministry. In the 1970’s I was involved in the congregation-owned educational institution as well as taking an active role in the shaping of the Philippine Region, both in its infancy.
I have a degree in commerce, major in accounting, and several years of experience involved in the running of our family business, and thus my assignment was as a bookkeeper and treasurer. Later as I gained experience and the needs arose, I accepted more responsibilities.
After over 30 years in the said ministry, I finally had a change, not only in ministry, but in residence as well. My new and present ministry is in charge of our congregation-owned retreat center. Avila Kiosk, the name of retreat center, is located in Balugo, Dumaguete City, Philippines. The center was built to accommodate groups for retreats or gatherings at an affordable cost. Fees for the use of the place varies, a result of a dialogue with their organizers. My years of experience in my previous ministry and as a Carmelite religious, taught me how to dialogue, to listen, and respond to their needs.
I am happy being a Carmelite religious and happy in my ministry both past and present. This was agreed by my close relatives, associates and friends. They say, and I agree, I am growing in age gracefully and a person with a positive attitude.
“The special charism of the Congregation is an orientation to a life of prayer and service in union with Jesus,
in whom continual prayer and action can exist harmoniously.”
(Constitutions and Directives, Identity, 2)
Over the past 68 years, I have served God as a classroom teacher, a principal, a religion coordinator, and a prayer moderator. Though recently retired, I continue to be of service to others. Weekly, I bring Communion to the residents at East Ridge Assisted Living here in Abbeville, sharing my love and comforting them with the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. These elderly folks really appreciate this gift.
As a longtime member of St. Mary Magdalen Church Choir, I practice weekly for our Sunday Eucharistic Celebration. Participating with the choir helps me share my voice by praising God through music.
One of the many joys of living in Abbeville has been “bumping into” a number of former students. Though I am very happy to see them, I often have to ask for their name.
With God’s help, I hope to continue witnessing to our Savior’s great love.
When I was in sixth grade, my teacher, Sister Mary Helen, said to my class: “You are now old enough to start thinking seriously about what you want to do with your life.” “Well,” I thought,” I have one life. God is the highest good. So I will give my life to God.” It seemed so clear to me. And for me it meant that I would become a sister.
When I was near finishing high school and began planning to enter the convent, I met an obstacle. My dad was a Lutheran, and in the pre-Vatican II days, Catholics and Lutherans had a mutual antagonism and suspicion of each other. In fact, when my dad was small, his mother would threaten to send him to the nuns if he wasn’t good. He had grown up hearing horror stories about convents and what when on. So a battle of wills raged. Finally he took back his threat to get a lawyer to get me out but said that if I entered the convent, I would never see him again.
Thus the day my mother drove me to the convent was one of great sadness. I left my beloved dad with tears in his eyes. It was also one of great joy because I was about to begin my dream. I was going to find truth, love, and goodness. I quickly met reality. I found a group of women with human foibles and faults, seekers as I was and only on the way. Nevertheless, I felt I was where God wanted me to be. (It took a couple of years, but my dad relented and eventually came to be glad for me.)
My first ministry was teaching high school at Mount Carmel Academy: religion, math, chemistry, debate, home room. What a joy! For me, teaching is not merely something I do. I am a teacher. I have been given the gift to see and to be able to articulate what I see in a way that makes sense to people. Then they can say, “Of course, I knew that. I just never put it that way before!”
Besides teaching high school, I have taught the young women who came to join us about religious life and spirituality. I have taught in renewal programs for priests and religious. I have been involved in spiritual companioning and retreat work. My main mission is to help people become aware of their own desire for God which has been implanted in each of us by our Creator, and to respond in love to the love that has been showered on us.
Another important call within the call occurred when I was a junior in high school. My mother had given me money and sent me to Central Grocery in the French Quarter to buy a special kind of pasta for a party she was giving. I drove downtown with a couple of friends. We were walking to the grocery when I saw an old black woman shuffling along the sidewalk. She had no shoes. I was struck by the incongruity, the inequality, the injustice of me having money for a special kind of pasta and her having no shoes. I wanted to take my shoes off and give them to her, but I hesitated. I was embarrassed to do this in front of my friends. (It is something I regret.) But this was the start of a desire to work among the poor, black people of New Orleans that later bore fruit.
After working for several years in formation ministry in my congregation, I made a 30 Day Retreat in the Jesuit tradition. As part of the retreat, I prayed for not only a poverty of spirit, but authentic poverty, if it was God’s will. When I returned, I began a search which led me to two sisters of Mercy who were living and working in the St. Thomas public housing project. I joined them, living in an apartment in the center of the project, and working at Hope House, a ministry on the edge of the project. We did pre-school, GED, direct services, community organizing, a newspaper called Flambeau, and workshops for justice for parishes and high school groups. For these workshops, we had our neighbors who lived in the project tell groups who came to Hope House of their lives. In particular, different folks would express how the systems of our society: education, health care, criminal justice, economics, religion, were for them. Those who came from the suburbs often did not have the capacity to even imagine what the folks experienced as their own experience was so different.
I always remember one lady in particular, Miss Ruby. She would tell of her life, beginning with cooking in a house where her mother worked as a maid. Ruby was so small she had to stand on a crate to reach the stove. She told of other tragic events that she had endured. Many times, someone in the group that was listening would ask, “If your life is as it is, how can you believe in God?” Ruby would answer simply, “Because my life is as it is, how can I not believe in God? God is my strength, God is my hope, God is all I have.” My seven years in St. Thomas have stayed with me as a particularly grace-filled time. I felt that I was at the center of the world, where the difficulties we helped people with were so essential. All triviality was gone.
I left St. Thomas when I was elected vice-president of the Congregation and moved to our property in rural Lacombe. I missed the city, but learned to love the beauty of nature I encounted there. We began a nine-month renewal program for religious and clergy from around the world. Blessing Place was a holistic program with a wonderful staff which integrated the deep wisdom of the spiritual tradition of the Catholic Church and Carmelite spirituality with the wisdom of the 12 Steps and wholistic health. We had lectures, pottery, art and prayer, massage, community life, group therapy, social outings, Mardi Gras celebrations. For thirteen years, I felt I was able to use gifts God has blessed me with in a full and rich way.
Then 9/11 happened and our foreign participants had trouble getting visas. And I developed cancer. The powerlessness I experienced in the midst of chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple operations brought me to a new place, an experience I could not even have imagined before of God’s support and care when I myself had nothing left.
Today I am director of the Carmelite Spirituality Center giving retreats, spiritual guidance, and creating a milieu in which people can search for and discover God-with-us. I am also director of On-Going formation for our congregation. Each year I provide materials to our sisters for our on-going reflection and prayer on Carmelite spirituality, social justice, and the signs of our times.
A blessing I have received is to be care-giver for a one of our sisters, a dear friend with Alzheimer’s disease. I treasure the moments when she is behind her eyes and the love which no disease can touch.
I continue to learn. Life has been my great teacher. My religious vocation, my life in community, the call to prayer and contemplation that are essential to the Carmelite way have helped me to be open to life and hopefully, to learn the great lessons I have been presented. After more than 50 years in religious life, I can say: I am a Carmelite. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And what I desire with all my heart is to be, through the kindness of my Creator and the power of the Holy Spirit, another Christ in my time and my world.
I have retired from active pastoral ministry and is now residing at the Magnificat House of prayer, the retirement house of our community. Though I have retired from my active pastoral ministry it does not mean that I am just sitting around and twiddling my fingers or lying in bed sleeping all day as some people may think. I am a member of the formation team for our sisters in formation (aspirant, novices and 1st year professed sisters). I teach body awareness- that the body of the human being is one of the most Magnificent creation of God –I try to correct some of the folk belief that the human body is dirty. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and are co-creators of God. We study human anatomy and the marvelous function of all the different organs. The Lessons on the Human Body serves as an introduction to the three Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience.
When I am not teaching our sisters in initial formation I do flower gardening. Part of our driveway is bordered with always in bloom cosmos plants. I also have blooming impatiens in flower pots and orchids.
I try to live out my Carmelite Vocation by being faithful in all aspects of community life with my sisters, such as daily mass, community prayer, monthly recollection, meetings and recreation. I take care of my spiritual life by reading spiritual books that help me nourish my spirit and God’s presence in me.
Sr. Odile Theriot serves at St. Leo Convent in Lafayette. As community coordinator, she is a caregiver of elderly sisters who live there, chief cook and purchasing agent and liaison between the sisters, the parish and the school. She has filled a role of hospitality as our home is often mid-way to the West and East as sisters travel. Overnight stays are a steady in our home. “Zookeeper” is the affectionate title given to her as our coordinator, as she has cared for a motley crew – good, but motley—through the years.
Under her care, the sisters have health needs taken care of, a neat and comfortable home, and good food that nourishes body and soul. Our chapel and home are used for various congregation meetings and socials under her coordination. Our community prayer life, recreational needs and family contacts are part of the concern she offers to the sisters. She has been a presence of all of the sisters to the school children and faculty, the parishioners of St. Leo, and friends known to the sisters through the years.
Sr. Odile is truly a “community” person – daily Mass when possible, evening Liturgy of the Hours, family meals at breakfast and noon which keeps us together as a community of religious women. Awareness of the needs of some in our area in terms of food or money, gratitude to those persons in the area who have been so caring and generous to the sisters, is her priority. Though ministering to each other in our personal needs, an awareness of prayers needed for others, a sense of the broader community, our personal call to prayer, service and hospitality has always been before her personally and as a call to her sisters.
She may be a “zookeeper,” but she’s one of the best! Our zoo is doing well!
From the age of 18 to71 as a Sister of Mt. Carmel, I enjoyed my ministry in the field of education. The last several years I found myself the caregiver for my aged and sick mom. Once I retired from education and my mom passed away, I felt that I still had some energy to serve in a more limited capacity. I was fortunate to get a part time ministry as Minister to Ministers of the Sick and Homebound in St. Genevieve Parish in Lafayette, LA. and have been doing this for the last ten years.
This ministry involves getting Eucharistic ministers to bring the Eucharist to around 55 homebound parishioners and those in nursing homes. I have a few regulars that I visit weekly and then the others on a rotating basis.
This has been a most rewarding ministry and a perfect retirement ministry. I get very close to those to whom I minister. Most are very lonely and happy to have someone not only to bring them the Eucharist, but to have someone to visit them. It’s a most privileged ministry to be able to pray with them, to listen to their stories and to comfort them.
I’m also the spiritual assistant for the Lay Carmelite group in Lafayette. This is another ministry which is so rewarding. These men and women are striving to live the Carmelite way of life as lay persons and are an inspiration to me and I am so grateful to be associated with them.
God has truly blessed me in my elder years to be able to continue ministering and spreading my Carmelite charism in these two ministries. In January, I’ll be 83 and hope that God gives me the health and ability to continue to do these ministries for at least a few more years.
A phrase sometimes used by authors today is “living a purposeful life.” That is what comes to mind when I think of a charism. Our charism of service supported by our prayer life is purposeful living. Regardless of one’s ministry, the sharing of our charism is simply following in the footsteps of Jesus which was foremost a life of service to others. Putting oneself at the service of others without counting the cost is to me “purposeful living.”
I am presently teaching Spanish to the three (3) year olds at Cub Corner Preschool, our day care center here at the Motherhouse. We have, in a good way, a symbiotic relation, in that we learn from one another. They delight in learning new words which may sometimes sound funny to them, like “cucaracha.” I, in turn, learn so much from them. Through them I am often reminded of what it means to be simple, honest, transparent, vulnerable, joyful and innocent. My experience with these innocent and beautiful souls helps me to understand the words from the scripture as described in Matthew 18:3, “unless you are converted and become like children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” these words are now clearer to me.
As a member of a community, I consider my position as a member among those with whom I live, a wonderful way to live out our charism. Service in the best form is a witness of all we stand for. Sister Thérèse Chevrel said, “To love one another means to uphold one another, to help one another, to esteem one another, to make one another happy, to look after one another, to please one another, to lead one another to heaven.” As a community member we witness to one another as we pray, share meals or recreate together.
In the workplace in general, whether at the grocery store, church, or wherever we meet people, a smile, a greeting or any polite gesture can bring a moment of joy to one another. This too is a form of service.
My ministry is an institutional one being connected in our learning institution, “The Sisters of Mount Carmel Catholic School.” I am missioned as an Accountant both in the Region and in the school, hence working on financial reports that are being submitted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), quarterly and annually and to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) annually.
Aside from accounting job I am assigned as Archivist, keeping important documents of our Congregation such as historical records, land titles, Sister’s profiles, minutes of regional assemblies, and records that are of historical importance to the life and existence of the Philippine Region.
As much as I desire for pastoral ministry, to be in direct service with people, I commit myself to share Christian formation in the village of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bagong Silangan. This is an outreach ministry of our school in Fairview.
In order to live out my Carmelite vocation, I make it a regular horarium to attend Mass every day, communal prayers, monthly community recollections and meetings, journal writings, daily scripture readings, and spiritual readings. With these spiritual exercises, I grow in self-knowledge which enables me to reveal God’s presence in my life and to others.